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Silver lining in IndiGo earnings: Airline now seventh biggest worldwide by capacity

India’s largest airline has expanded on international routes over the last two years in a manner that no other carrier from the country has before.

January 31, 2021 / 02:21 PM IST
Representative image

Representative image

IndiGo, India’s largest carrier by fleet and domestic market share, has been propelled to the seventh spot worldwide by capacity according to the latest rankings from OAG. The airline wouldn’t have expected to be as big just yet, had it not been for COVID-19. The last year or two has seen IndiGo expand on international routes in a manner that no other airline from India has before.

As the airline declared a loss last week, the CEO was as candid as ever to explain that profitability would return when the airline scaled up to 100 percent of its capacity on the domestic front and was able to start international services.

IndiGo has 332 A320neo on order while the order for A321neo stands at 398 aircraft. Only 30 of the A321neos have been delivered. With capacity restrictions in place in terms of departures, the airline has been extensively deploying its A321neos and opting to bench the A320neo. Not only do they provide capacity, they also provide the long legs to offer charter flights to places — where the airline has not flown in the past — either as scheduled or as charter.

While the airline is in focus globally to have climbed the ranks in top airlines by capacity and for having accepted deliveries of the maximum number of A320 family aircraft in 2020, the next frontier is international. IndiGo has held slots at London Heathrow — the most coveted airport to operate in the world due to its slot restrictions — but has shied away from flying there due to prohibitive costs to induct a widebody and question marks over sustainability of widebody operations.

Focus on international

IndiGo moved beyond the usual melee of Gulf operations, which airlines from India have stuck to in the past on narrowbody aircraft. IndiGo expanded far and wide — to China, Turkey, Vietnam — and even offered codeshare services, a phenomenon not regularly associated with low-cost carriers.

Vande Bharat data

The secret of where the airline would fly in future could lie in the numbers of the Vande Bharat Mission. The mission, which initially started as a rescue and relief mission for Indians abroad, has since been used to start limited commercial flights under the air-bubble arrangement, with all flights being counted under the same, including charters.

The Ministry of Civil Aviation website shows 22.61 lakh passengers having arrived on charter flights while the Air India group carried another 12 lakh passengers. When the Indian government first mounted a mission to Wuhan, epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak, the nation was surprised with the number of Indians who were in Wuhan.

As the Vande Bharat Mission progressed, more and more surprises started tumbling out. With Indians across the world and many destinations hitherto unconnected by any carrier or by an Indian carrier there could be potential in the future.

The Air India group operated to over 30 destinations where Indian carriers were not serving as part of the Vande Bharat Mission and out of these, many become immediately available for IndiGo — in terms of range, with the A321neo as well as the traffic potential for a narrowbody to balance costs. These include places such as Cairo, Kiev, Moscow, Manila, Almaty, Bishkek, Nairobi and Jakarta.

Come 2024, when the A321XLR is available and gives the airline a range of over 8,000 km, IndiGo could potentially fly to Mauritius and Bali. The airline has so far not specified the number of A321XLR it intends to operate and for a large customer like IndiGo, typically aircraft manufacturers allow a swap even at a later date.

IndiGo will get help from cargo operations to break even earlier than what it would with just passenger ops.

Tail Note

In an unprecedented move, the airline had announced that it would operate to seven new domestic destinations between now and May. Unprecedented because the airline has always kept its plans close to its chest and has believed in surprising the competition.

IndiGo is unlikely to announce international plans since there is no visibility on when international services could start. But there is no hiding the fact that its fleet structure is such that the airline is looking to establish a good international network from India, targeting the Origin-Destination crowd, which would accept slim seats in exchange for not having to go through the transit experience.

With longer battery life on the phone and content that can be downloaded before boarding, all that the airline would need is a charging port, hopefully making it available without looking for ancillary revenue.

Ameya Joshi runs the aviation analysis website Network Thoughts.
first published: Jan 31, 2021 02:21 pm